Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category
The good folks at Oxford University Press recently sent me a copy of the new paperback edition of James McPherson’s This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War. First published in 2007, it comprises 16 essays in which McPherson attempts to answer the following questions:
- Why did the war come?
- What were the war aims of each side?
- What strategies did they employee to achieve these aims?
- How do we evaluate the leadership of both sides?
- Did the war’s outcome justify the immense sacrifice of lives?
- What impact did the experience of war have on the people who lived through it?
- How did later generations remember and commemorate that experience?
- Author: James M. McPherson
- Publisher: Oxford University Press
- ISBN13: 9780195392425
- ISBN10: 0195392426
- Paperback, 272 pages
- Sep 2009
I read the hardback version in 2007 and can highly RECOMMEND.
FYI – Amazon has the paperback version available for here for $12.21.
I’ve made a number of new acquisitions over the past few weeks. I bought this book to assist with an assignment on the command skills of Abraham Lincoln. Author Eliot A. Cohen (left), also examines the records of Georges Clemenceau, Winston Churchill and David Ben-Gurion in an effort to synthesize why they stand above others as leaders in time of war. So far, after reading the first few chapters, I’m quite impressed. Full disclosure: I own the 2002 paperback version of this book published in the UK by The Free Press. I recently purchased the audio version from Audible.com published by Blackstone Audiobooks and narrated by Robert Whitfield (a.k.a. Simon Vance).
- Author: Eliot A. Cohen
- Published: 2003-09-09
- Publisher: Anchor
- ISBN13: 9781400034048
- Binding: Paperback
- 320 pages
- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: National Geographic (October 20, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1426203470
- ISBN-13: 978-1426203473
- Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 10.7 x 1.1 inches
The good folks at National Geographic sent me a review copy of their new Atlas of the Civil War: A Comprehensive Guide to the Tactics and the Terrain of Battle. I’m impressed. This is one of those books that as a kid I would spread out on the floor in front of the fire and lose myself in for hours. It’s FULL size means just that. Images that many of us have seen for years, and many we’ve never seen, are spread across pages over a foot high. So when looking at the bloated bodies of dead warriors near the Peach Orchard of Gettysburg’s Battlefield, it becomes immediately obvious that none have shoes, scavengers having carried them away.
Plainly visible among the troops and civilians crowded inside the walls of Washington’s Old Penitentiary on July 7, 1865 (below) to witness the hanging of Lincoln assassination conspirators, is a young boy, apparently unable to turn away from the gallows.
But even more impressive are the maps. There are 88 rare period maps, many published for the first time, and 34 new maps created by the staff of the National Geographic’s cartographers led by Carl Mehler. All are in a large format which makes them entirely readable. Almost a dozen orders of battle are also provided along with biographies and timelines.
Editor Neil Kagan and historians Stephan G. Hyslop and Harris J. Andrews, who also collaborated on National Geographic’s Eyewitness to the Civil War, have provided excellent commentary and a rich story of the war from beginning to end. Carol Norton, as art director, led the creative vision for what is really a quite remarkable book of art.
I say BRAVO. Highly recommend.
STEVEN E. WOODWORTH. Jefferson Davis and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas. 1990. Pp. xv, 380. $16.95.
Much has been written about the political and military genius of Abraham Lincoln and the successful leader he grew to be while Commander in Chief of a fractured union. But as the country divided and civil war became a reality, a new leader was called upon to assume the role of Commander in Chief for the Confederacy, the seasoned Jefferson Davis. At the precipice of war, betting men looking at the comparative qualifications of the two presidents could easily have predicted that Davis would outshine Lincoln. What kind of leader did Davis prove to be and how did he recruit and manage those men who would become members of his high command? What kind of generals were they and how did their personalities and actions impact the outcome of the war?
Steven E. Woodworth’s monograph answers those questions and others through examination of Jefferson Davis’ handling of the generals who defended the newly formed Confederacy in the Western theater of the American Civil War. Against a chronology of key events, each commander is introduced with information essential to understanding the skills they brought to war. Woodworth gives us their respective birthplaces, education, military and political experience, and reasons for consideration as senior leaders. Their performances in command roles are examined along with their interactions with Davis. There is brilliance to be sure from both Davis and some of his generals. But there is also incompetence, jealousy, loss of nerve, and even a propensity toward sabotage of brother commanders. Varying degrees of analysis are given to among others: Leonidas Polk, Simon Bolivar Buckner, Albert Sidney Johnston, P.G.T. Beauregard, Braxton Bragg, Early Van Dorn, John C. Breckenridge, Edmund K. Smith, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Patrick R. Cleburne, Sterling Price, William J. Hardee, John C. Pemberton, Joseph E. Johnston, Benjamin F. Cheatham, James A. Seddon, Daniel H. Hill, James Longstreet, Gideon J. Pillow, David Twiggs, and John Bell Hood. Woodworth pulls no punches.
Woodworth concludes that Davis was highly trained, skilled from a breadth of experience in the militarily and in politics, and eminently qualified to assume the role of Commander in Chief of the Confederacy. He was also flawed. His imperfections are revealed as the war in the West is traced from beginning to end. Davis is shown to be incapable of judging objectively the performances of personal friends. He both trusts and delegates too much to his leaders. This trait worked to the detriment of some of the most exceptional men like Albert Sidney Johnston, who accomplished miracles in the defense of western borders despite unanswered requests to fill and equip his ranks. It also left incompetents like Leonidas Polk in power, impairing more talented men like Braxton Bragg. Davis becomes consumed by the war emotionally and physically. In the end, failure in the West is seen to have contributed significantly to the failure of the Confederacy. Woodworth posits that the faults of Davis himself, stemming from a deep-seated insecurity, are contributory to this failure.
Woodworth brings to the work the credentials of a seasoned historian. He holds history degrees from Southern Illinois University (B.A. 1982) and Rice University, where he received a Ph.D. in 1987. At the time of the book’s publication, he taught history at Toccoa Falls College in Georgia. He now teaches U.S. history, Civil War and Reconstruction, and the Old South at Texas Christian University. He also teaches military history at the American Military University. He is a prolific and award winning author.
Woodworth provides an insightful contribution to our understanding of the Civil War by revealing the best and the worst of the Confederacy’s senior military leadership in the West.
Particularly helpful to an understanding of the challenges faced by Davis’ high command is Woodworth’s campaign analysis. Also exemplary is the concise summary he provides of key points at the end of each chapter. This important study in leadership fills a gap and stands equal to and complementary of the T. Harry William classic, Lincoln and His Generals. It is both highly readable and academically rich.
The good folks at the University of Oklahoma Press forwarded a review copy of Jeremy Black’s new book, The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon. In my usual fashion, I am making an initial post about the book before a full reading.
6″ x 9″ x 0″
1 B&W Illus., 3 Maps
Published: 2009, Oklahoma University Press
The quick perusal reveals several compelling reasons for recommending the book. First, it is written from “an Atlantic vantage point, which accounts for its contribution to the academic coverage of the war as the latter tend to reflect national perspectives, mostly American, but also Canadian.” (Black, xiv) It goes without saying that any serious scholar of military history would seek out the work of historians and indeed primary sources providing insights from a variety of vantage points. Second, Black speaks to the impact of the war not only on America but also on Canada. Black speculates on how the history of the United States would have been very different had it expanded into Canada, “not the least because the slave states of the South would have been in a decided minority.” (Black, xii) Third, Black covers the naval operations so crucial to the war’s outcome. Fourth, the books addresses the consequences of the war. Black discusses the war’s “impact on America’s politics, public culture, economy, and territorial expansion” as being even more important than the military results. (Black, xiii) Finally, the book promises to explore the implications of unwanted expeditionary war, a topic with relevancy today.
Professor Black’s new book is Volume 21 in the Campaigns and Commanders Series. Black, a prolific writer, has authored more than seventy (70) books. He is Professor of History at the University of Exeter and a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of America and the West at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. He has lectured extensively around the world.
The Campaigns and Commanders Series at the University of Oklahoma Press include the following:
|The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon||21||By Jeremy Black|
|A Dragon’s Head and a Serpent’s Tail||20||By Kenneth M. Swope|
|With Zeal and with Bayonets Only||19||Matthew H. Spring|
|Once Upon a Time in War||18||Robert E. Humphrey|
|Borrowed Soldiers||17||Mitchell A. Yockelson;|
|The Far Reaches of Empire||16||John Grenier|
|Napoleon’s Enfant Terrible||15||John G. Gallaher|
|Three Days in the Shenandoah||14||Gary Ecelbarger|
|George Thomas||13||Christopher J. Einolf|
|Volunteers on the Veld||12||Stephen M. Miller|
|The Black Hawk War of 1832||10||Patrick J. Jung|
|William Harding Carter and the American Army||9||Ronald G. Machoian|
|Blood in the Argonne||8||Alan D Gaff|
|Blue Water Creek and the First Sioux War, 1854-1856||6||R. Eli Paul|
|The Uncivil War||5||Robert R. Mackey|
|Bayonets in the Wilderness||4||Alan D Gaff|
|Washita||3||Jerome A. Greene|
|Morning Star Dawn||2||Jerome A. Greene|
|Napoleon and Berlin||1||Michael V. Leggiere|
12 b&w illus., 1 map
The good folks at the University of Oklahoma Press sent me a review copy yesterday of Bryce Benedict’s Jayhawkers: The Civil War Brigade of James Henry Lane. In my usual fashion, I’m posting a few comments prior to a thorough reading.
I live on the borders of Missouri and Kansas so confess some considerable fascination with both Jim Lane and the evolution of war in the towns and farmlands of this part of the Western theater. Lane, a Kansas senator and strong advocate of Lincoln, was a player. Benedict identifies Lincoln himself as having given Lane authority “to raise and command two volunteer regiments.” Lane used them to harass Missourians with violence, theft, and destruction of property in a manner foreshadowing that of Sherman. Benedict posits that Lane thus embraced the notion of “total war” as a means of disabling the enemy’s war machine before it became more widely adopted as a strategy of the Union.
The photo of Lane on the cover (above) was a brilliant choice. After perusing the Library of Congress and finding his carte d’visite (left), it becomes clear that the look of the man fit his personality. In the words of Milton W. Reynolds, Lane was “weird, mysterious, partially insane, partially inspired, and poetic.” He described him as having lived a “…wayward, fitful life of passion and strife, of storm and sunshine a mysterious existence that now dwelt on the mountain-tops of expectation and the very summit of highest realization, and anon in the valley of despondency and deepest gloom.”  Lane committed suicide by shooting himself in the mouth with a pistol in 1866.
Author Bryce Benedict has produced a well researched work with notes for each chapter and three appendices including considerable information about fate of the casualties of Lane’s brigade, most of whom died from disease.
For further reading, check out these books digitized for online reading at the Library of Congress.
 Connelley, William Elsey, (1855-1930) James Henry Lane, the “Grim chieftain” of Kansas (Topeka: Crane, 1899). The Library of Congress Digitized Book. LOC Call number: 9594581, Digitizing sponsor: Sloan Foundation
I made a number of new acquisitions over the past month. The latest arrived in the mail today and has been added to my virtual bookshelves here. I’m actually pretty excited by this purchase.
and Steven Stanley (Maps and Photography) 62 photos and 70 full color maps